Healthy values for happy lives and the feel-good factor

Rosemary Dewan

Rosemary Dewan is the CEO of the Human Values Foundation which promotes the importance of teaching human values in schools. Since 1995 it has been providing practical, cross-curricular programmes for personal development and behaviour management, integrating SMSC, PSHE education, Citizenship, PLTS and SEAL.

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How would inhabitants of Kepler-22b rate Planet Earth beings?

If inhabitants of the newly discovered Kepler-22b planet were to quietly visit Earth’s atmosphere and observe the activity on Planet Earth, how would they rate the way we live and how we are looking after our planet?  Would they be surprised to see widespread, unsustainable modes of operation that appear to be posing a very serious threat to the very existence of our blue planet?

It is possible that one observation would be that many Earth beings don’t seem to be enjoying the realisation of their full potential due to operating and bringing up their young in a debilitating climate of moral uncertainty. In the minds of our galactic cousins, they might wonder why this matter is not being more urgently addressed, not least for the sake of the health and well-being of Planet Earth and all other forms of life on it.

What kind of a culture would enhance the feel-good factor?

The observers from Kepler-22b might sense that Planet Earth could look forward to a more viable, long-term future if its dominant, seemingly intelligent beings (homo sapiens) took responsibility for driving a cultural shift away from what would appear to be a significant amount of insular self-interest behaviour towards behaviour intent on supporting the common good. Along with some of today’s visionaries on Planet Earth, they might consider that one key element in achieving this would be much more ethical leadership, underpinned by a values-driven framework of policies.

Since our values are the principles we use in our day-to-day decision-making, it is important that from a young age, children are given plenty of opportunities to become ‘fluent in values’, especially those that tend to draw out the very best in everyone.

Starting with ourselves

In the words of Albert Einstein, “The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” And, as Socrates said, “Know thyself.” This entails gradually understanding better what makes us tick, our emotions, including fears that may be locking up our potential, the values we hold and how they affect our thinking and behaviour.

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As our cognitive capacity for reasoning develops, along with confidence and self-esteem, we are better able to assess our early parental and cultural conditioning, what serves our long-term purpose and therefore what we would like to keep and what we may need to leave behind in order to let our true selves blossom. We start uncovering our own talents and begin to recognise what really motivates us, where our passions lie and how we can develop a purposeful vision for our lives in the context of today’s world, its future health and well-being and the future of society as a whole.

Learning to flourish and the ripple effects

Dr. Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, is renowned for his pioneering work on optimism, motivation and character strengths, enabling individuals to get the most out of life – see He has written a book entitled, “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being” in which he poses the questions, “What is it that enables you to cultivate your talents, to build deep, lasting relationships with others, to feel pleasure, and to contribute meaningfully to the world? In a word, what is it that allows you to flourish?”

Good, systematic values education helps participants flourish and has enormously wide-ranging benefits, with the potential of the positive impacts raising the bar for parenting, teaching, learning, the workplace and on revitalising lives that have suffered from negative pathways, such as those resulting in a criminal record. The dynamic process is constantly prompting discussion, exploration and reflection about an extensive spectrum of important issues and the system helps individuals develop skills and build up competencies that are conducive to them achieving fulfillment in all aspects of their lives. The qualities and understanding gained have a ripple effect, enriching and enhancing not only personal performance during schooldays but also the performance of corporate bodies as the participants progress into positions of influence and power.

According to Aristotle, “Where your talents and the world’s need cross, there lies your vocation.” Values education can help individuals expand and grow and progressively move towards and into this wonderfully exhilarating sweet spot.

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